Foreign tourists and residents have a range of options when it comes to getting coronavirus information from the authorities in their native tongues, but they are more likely to find what they need via the Japan Tourism Agency and local governments rather than the health ministry.
A hotline run by the Japan National Tourism Organization, an external bureau of the Tourism Agency for foreign visitors who need assistance, has been fielding an increasing number of inquiries about COVID-19.
Information is available in English, Chinese and Korean at 050-3816-2787.
Although the service is aimed at travelers, “foreign residents are also welcome to use it if public health centers in their prefecture only provide information in Japanese,” an official from the organization said over the phone.
There has been a surge in calls to the center since the JNTO announced in a Jan. 31 press release that it would handle coronavirus inquiries, with between 25 to 50 coronavirus-related calls per day compared to just one to four calls before the announcement. The majority of those hotline calls are people seeking recommendations for hospitals due to concerns over virus symptoms, he said.
In addition to the hotline, JNTO also runs a website listing almost 2,000 medical institutions nationwide with foreign-language services. Users can filter results by prefecture, language and medical department, as well as specify a keyword in the search box.
On the social media front, the organization operates Japan Safe Travel both on Twitter and Weibo, providing foreign visitors with safety tips and disaster information in English and Chinese, respectively. But posts made on the accounts regarding the coronavirus contained only general announcements and prevention guidelines.
“For daily updates on the number of infection cases, people can refer to the JNTO website,” the official said.
While the advisory site is linked to the home page, users need to scroll more than halfway down the page in order to find it. The figures are also based on global situation reports released daily by the World Health Organization, rather than developments specific to Japan.
“If you are a foreign resident living in Japan, we recommend you call your prefectural government as they ought to have a consultation call center regarding the coronavirus,” a health ministry official said. Even so, handling of the coronavirus situation might differ for each prefecture.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government recently boosted its capacity to take coronavirus inquiries at the call center. It is aimed only at residents in Tokyo and is available at 0570-550571 in English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.”We have expanded this because … there are a lot of foreigners living here,” said an official from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
The Osaka Prefectural Government provides a phone number of a foundation for foreign residents or visitors. The Osaka Foundation of International Exchange can deliver virus information in 10 languages, not including Japanese.
Those with questions regarding possible infections can consult the foundation at 06-6941-2297.
Aichi Prefecture has a phone number for foreign tourists that gives information on medical facilities and interpretation for tourists.
As the prefecture does not have a phone number for foreign residents, an official said such people should call the Japanese-language coronavirus hotline and ask for assistance from Japanese-speaking friends or acquaintances if necessary.
Alternatively, foreign nationals can turn to their country’s government sources for the latest updates on COVID-19.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia referred citizens to its bulletin on the government travel advisory website Smartraveller, and advised those who are particularly concerned to contact its 24-hour Consular Emergency Center.
The U.S. Embassy in Japan has an official page dedicated to the coronavirus outbreak with an advisory list for those who are within or are considering visiting the country.
Furthermore, it has been updating its multiple social media outlets as the virus situation evolves, with links to various local resources around the country for those who require assistance in English.
“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad are the Department of State’s highest priority,” a spokesperson from the embassy’s press office said.
And if all else fails, private travel agencies and social news websites can also be a good source of timely information.
A coronavirus “megathread” currently pinned to the top of the r/japanlife forum on Reddit is updated daily with links to the latest news from various sources in English. Registered members of the popular news aggregation site can also discuss issues and get advice from other foreign nationals living in Japan.
Non-Japanese speakers appear to be having less success getting information from the health ministry. Although the ministry offers a toll-free phone number for inquiries about the virus, it is available only in Japanese. For people who don’t speak Japanese, it has designated websites in English and Chinese.
On the English and Chinese pages, a link leads to a page that has information on the Japan Visitor Hotline and another link to the page providing a list of medical institutions.
As the ministry does not have a toll-free line for foreign nationals, it guides foreign residents to other governmental organizations, a ministry official said.
On both pages it displays information on developments in Japan pertaining to the coronavirus.
“We update the English and Chinese versions every weekday based on the Japanese version,” said the official, who was not authorized to be named. However, there were days when the information on the English page appeared to have been left without an update.
COVID-19 info in Japan by prefecture
Links in the left column are to pages on prefectural websites, where you’ll fidn detailed information about COVID-19 cases (in Japanese). As the data protocol related to the COVID-19 outbreak in Japan has not been standardardized, the way cases are documented varies from prefecture.
Pages linked in the right column include prefectural hotlines and FAQs. Note that many but not all prefectures offer info and consultations in languages other than Japanese.